Gender, Debt, and Dropping Out of College
For many young Americans, access to credit has become critical to completing a college education and embarking on a successful career path. Young people increasingly face the trade-off of taking on debt to complete college or foregoing college and taking their chances in the labor market without a college degree. These trade-offs are gendered by differences in college preparation and support and by the different labor market opportunities women and men face that affect the value of a college degree and future difficulties they may face in repaying college debt. We examine these new realities by studying gender differences in the role of debt in the pivotal event of graduating from college using the 1997 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. In this article, we find that women and men both experience slowing and even diminishing probabilities of graduating when carrying high levels of debt, but that men drop out at lower levels of debt than do women. We conclude by theorizing that high levels of debt are one of the mechanisms that sort women and men into different positions in the social stratification system.